Saturday, October 29, 2011

Have We Lost the "Art of Thank You?"

I've heard several people comment recently that "thank you" seems to have disappeared from our vocabulary. These were co-workers, a teacher, a grandmother and someone commenting on a blog. One person mentioned that thank you notes seem almost a forgotten courtesy these days.

"Thank you notes? What does that have to do with cooking?" you ponder.

Perhaps it doesn't, except in a round-about way if someone gives you a homemade gift or brings meals when you or a family member is sick. However, the discussion brings back memories of childhood when my siblings and I sat around the dining table the day after Christmas, birthdays, and other occasions for gifts.

Mother always insisted we write "thank you" notes. I may not have seen the value then, although we did come from a family of letter writers, but now I'm glad Mother desired to teach this courtesy.

I also recall sitting in my grandmother's kitchen writing letters and thank you notes with her when I visited. Every Sunday and Wednesday evenings, and sometimes in between, Nanny wrote letters to her two children living in other towns. She also penned notes to friends, including those she needed to thank for some kindness.

Writing Notes Anywhere

At our farmhouses, the kitchen table became the spot for letter writing, craft projects, homework, reading, and chatting over a cup of tea. So naturally, when I think of thank you notes, these occasions often come to mind, although I've learned from a friend that you can write these anywhere.

From her, I've acquired the habit of keeping postcards and note cards with me so I can jot a note on the spot instead of waiting and then forgetting. She always has these cards in her planner or purse.

If I mention a mutual friend who is ill, experiencing difficulties, received recognition, she asks, "Mary, what's their address?" then pulls out a card and addresses it immediately. If she doesn't have time to write the note, she has the addressed envelope or postcard to remind her when there are a few moments.

Making Thank You Notes

Thank you notes can be a fun cardmaking project with your children or grandchildren, as well as one teaching the "art of thank you."

*Use scrapbooking supplies and adorn some heavier paper or cardstock in various ways.

*Do you have stamping supplies on hand? Your youngsters might like to use these when making notes, as well as birthday and get well cards.

*Colored paper and crayons or colored pencils also suffice for creating attractive cards and notes. Perhaps you have pens with gold and silver ink for use, too. Youngsters love to draw and write with these.

*If you're into a more extensive project, make paper with the youngsters to use for their cards.

Thank You Note Snacks

A bite of goodies helps spur youngsters on with their tasks. Perhaps it will contribute to the enjoyment of this one of thank you note writing.

RAISIN NUT NUMBLES - Boil 2 cups of raisins in 1 cup water for 5 minutes. Cool and stir in 1 teaspoon baking soda.

Cream 1 cup shortening and 2 cups sugar; add 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla and stir into the raisin mixture. Mix well.

Sift together 4 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt; add to other ingredients. Fold in 1 cup chopped walnuts.

Stir well and drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 10 minutes.

(c)Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen writes from her woodland home in New Hampshire. )

Monday, September 26, 2011

Peaches & Pie Time

Hubby Jim has been perfecting peach pie and makes a delicious one. I don't even try to compete with him because he measures and times things exactly. I'm more the "throw it together" experimental type of cook. And I have some amazing surprises at times!

Peach season always brings back memories, too. When I was growing up on a New York State farm, we had a few peach trees, along with Father's apple trees, which yielded this delicious fruit. Mother always canned quantities of peaches for us to have for dessert in winter. She often made fresh peach shortcake during peach season.

Peaches Grown in China

Apparently peaches first were grown in China, where this was a symbol of longevity. Often actual peaches or replicas in porcelain were given as friendship and good will gifts. Chinese porcelain and paintings often were decorated with peaches or peach blossoms.

From China, the peach reached Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and then northern Europe. Peach pits were brought to the Caribbean by Columbus and from there the fruit spread to Mexico.

Long before the thirteen American colonies were established, peaches in abundance were growing wild in this country.

Found in Florida

In the 16th century, Spanish colonists began growing peaches in Florida. From there peaches spread westward and northward so rapidly that the early English settlers were astonished to find them wild when they landed in Virginia.

Today, next to the apple, peaches rank among the most widely grown deciduous fruits in the United States.

Peach Shortcake - This was a treat I enjoyed as a child. Make shortcake from your favorite recipe, either biscuit or cake type. While warm, split biscuits or the cake and fill with sliced, sweetened fresh peaches. Spoon peaches over the top and served with whipped cream or sweetened heavy cream.

No-Bake Peach Pie is a quick and easy dessert. (But Jim prepares the traditional two crust baked one.) Prepare vanilla pie filling as directed on package. When cooked and cooled, fold in 2 to 3 peeled, sliced peaches. Pour into baked pie shell or graham or vanilla wafer crust. Chill until well set.

Before serving, top with whipped cream flavored with 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, if desired. Garnish with slivered almonds.

(c)Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen has been writing cooking columns for more than 40 years. With hubby Jim and daughter Beth, she has compiled a family cookbook. (She gives and in person...on producing your own family cookbook.) E-mail: .

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Do You Remember Aprons?

Even though I don't wear aprons much anymore, I think about those of yesteryear. Or I see pretty ones in a store or magazine. Perhaps someone has transformed an apron into another wearable item, utilizing the fabric in a unique way. Then memories of aprons surface.

In days ago, a cook wouldn't think of being seen in the kitchen without her apron. Mother had a number of these. Some were the old-fashioned, full bib ones that covered her from chest to skirt hem. Others tied around the waist and covered her skirt.

I recall both grandmothers always wearing the full coverage aprons to keep their dresses clean. Yes, they always wore dresses, never slacks.

Then when Mother or my grandmothers entertained guests, they wore aprons of finer fabric. These also might have embroidery on the hems and pockets.

Why Did Women Wear Aprons?

Traditionally ladies wore aprons to cover their dresses when working at home. In days before electricity and modern washing machines, it was very time consuming to wash clothes. So the longer one could wear a dress, the easier it was.

Also, clothing often was expensive, so an apron helped give longer wear. Young girls and their mothers wore aprons. Sometimes they had matching ones.

However, as washing methods became easier and clothing less expensive, aprons saw less use. Slacks and dungarees (jeans) became common apparel rather than dresses around the home.

Bib Aprons Had Many Uses:

*Obviously, they helped keep a lady's house dress clean.

*They often served as a towel for drying her hands.

*The homemaker used the apron for wiping her face when hot from cooking over the woodstove or doing housework.

They Had Many Other Uses:

*Aprons came in handy for carrying vegetables from the garden or fruit from the trees.

*They could be flapped to chase the dog, cats or chickens from the farmhouse door..

*If a potholder wasn't handy, a lady might use her apron for holding a pan handle.

*If a piece of furniture needed a quick swipe to remove dust, the apron came in handy.

*Aprons were good for wiping children's tears and wrapping around shoulders when a child was chilly or needed a hug.

*If you were careful, you could carry eggs in the apron from hen house to the kitchen.

Pockets in Aprons Were Useful, too:

*Of course, you could tuck a handkerchief there.

*If you were working outside, you might carry a snack in your pocket.

*This was a place for storing children's treasures (stones, feathers, odd pieces of wood) picked up on a walk.

*In a pocket, you might find extra bobby pins, safety pins, a bit of string - odds and ends you might need throughout the day.

When cooking in your apron, you might make:


Sift together 1 3/4 cups sifted flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 3/4 teaspoon salt into a mixing bowl. Combine 1 beaten egg, 3/4 cup milk and 1/3 cup cooking oil or melted shortening.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the liquid. Stir quickly only until the dry ingredients are moistened. Mixture may still be lumpy. Lightly fold in 1 cup fresh blueberries.

Fill greased muffin pans 2/3 or use paper liners. Bake at 400 degrees F. for about 20 - 25 minutes. (Makes 12 muffins.)

(c)Mary Emma Allen

(I write from my home in NH about cooking, quiltmaking, family history, and Alzheimer's. I also write for children and teach writing workshops. For information about my books and workshops.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Think Green for Spring

As we approach the warmer weather of spring, which has seemed so long in coming this year, the color green comes to mind. I noticed a "green" display at our local supermarket as I entered the produce section.

The table contained green grapes, green cabbage, and pineapple with their green tops. To carry it further, they could have added limes and Granny Smith apples. Then in another section, I found various types of lettuce, celery, endive, green peppers, parsley and broccoli.

A magazine on display at the store announced "Go Green" and "Enjoy Fresh Spring Recipes." This got me thinking about the healthy foods we can enjoy this time of year (or any time of year) that are green"whether they're fresh or frozen.

Green Leafy Vegetables
These are the ones generally known as "salad greens," although we can use some of them steamed or tossed in a pan for a few minutes with olive oil and vinegar. Most are rich in Vitamins A, C, and K. They may contain iron, minerals and fiber.

For those concerned about memory loss, one study has associated the dark, leafy greens containing folate with slowing down this decline. When selecting greens, remember that the darkest ones generally are highest in nutrients.

(Incidentally, when our grandchildren had guinea pigs, I noticed the little critters went for the dark greens before the lighter ones or white stalk ends. Do they instinctively know something?)

When I was growing up, we had to wait for spring to find greens in the wild, like dandelions and dock greens. Next were lettuce and other greenery from the garden. Nowadays, you'll find them in stores year round.

But I Don't Like Salads!

If someone in your family doesn't like salads, try including greens in the diet through other recipes.

*Use endive as a sandwich wrap. Instead of flat or pita bread, spread your sandwich ingredients on a large piece of endive and roll it for a wrapped sandwich.

*Make cabbage rolls. Use the ingredients you would for stuffed green peppers. Roll this mixture in large, green cabbage leaves. Bake as you would the green peppers.

SPINACH SALAD (You can substitute any type of salad greens for the spinach or use a combination.) Mix together 1 pound spinach, torn into small pieces, 4-8 ounces (as you desire) of fresh sliced mushrooms, and 6-8 slices crisp bacon crumbled. Serve with your favorite dressing.

(You can use smaller quantities and make an individual salad with these ingredients, too.)


Fresh asparagus is a favorite green vegetable for Jim and me. Usually we cook it in a microwave steamer, then serve with butter or low fat Italian dressing. However, you can bake it or serve with cream sauce.

Steam 1 to 11/2 pounds asparagus until slightly tender. Lay in buttered baking dish. Drizzle with 6 tablespoons virgin olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 to 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, depending on how much cheese you like. Bake at 300 degrees for 6-10 minutes, until asparagus is tender.

(You also can use cheese other than Parmesan.)

(c) Mary Emma Allen

(Mary Emma Allen writes from her woodland home in NH. She also writes about Alzheimer's, quiltmaking, and Civil War research and gives workshops on all these topics. )

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Memories of Cereal Box Dishware

"What has become of the prizes in cereal boxes?" a friend asked on Facebook. Then she went on to describe items she and her siblings looked for. This reminded me of the rings, toys, phonograph records and other items my brothers, sister and l anticipated, too.

Then the ensuing discussion, as her friends chimed in, brought to mind the dishes Mother collected from Mother's Oats oatmeal boxes. These consisted of cereal bowls, small plates, cups and saucers. I think the design was green on white. None of this dishware remained when I had to pack up Mother's home and move her to mine when Alzheimer's developed.   (As I did more research, I think perhaps some of the dishware was light green jadeite type.)

As I searched for this dishware on the Internet, I discovered, not the one I recall, but others that supposedly were distributed in Mother's Oats. One of these is the Fire King Bonnie Blue design. It consists of a blue flower on cup and saucer set. Carnival glassware apparently also was found in these cereal boxes.

Dishes in Soap Boxes, too

Another type of dinnerware of memory consists of the "Golden Wheat" design my mother-in-law collected from laundry soap. With eight boys in the household, often two grandmas, Dad and her, Mum used a lot of laundry powder. She gave me some of these for our everyday dinnerware when Jim and I married. I still have a few pieces after more than 50 years.

Research has revealed that these Golden Wheat dishes were promotional items made by Homer Laughlin dish company and distributed in Duz soap powder. They had a 22 k gold trim around the rim and a wheat design on white in the center. Some had the company mark, while others didn't. One source indicates that those in the soap powder didn't have the company mark, while the dishware sold independently were marked.

Do you have special memories of prizes found in cereal and other boxes? I've discovered it fun to research the background of them.